Crowdfunded campaigns preserve Earth’s environment

Without the generosity of the public, the iconic Statue of Liberty might not have the solid and impressive foundation it has today. By the late 1800s, government funds for the monument had run out. Yet, through a fundraising campaign, the New York World newspaper secured the support of more than 160,000 residents to cover the costs of the pedestal.

Read more: Explained: What is crowdfunding?

Just as great monuments need solid foundations to ensure their sustainability, so does the environment. In the case of nature conservation, money is needed to support various research projects, field activities and outreach activities aimed at protecting and managing species and habitats.

As the health of the environment continues to decline globally, in most regions government funding falls short of what is needed to stem the losses. Crowdfunding plays an important and underestimated role in biodiversity conservation.

Our new research presents a global analysis of how crowdfunding, still a relatively new and minor financial mechanism in the conservation community, contributes to conservation around the world.

Show me the money. What is funded and why?

Crowdfunding offers a powerful mechanism for mobilizing resources for conservation across borders. We have registered 577 conservation-focused projects (from 72 crowdfunding platforms), which have raised approximately $4.8 million since 2009. The people leading these projects were based in 38 countries, but the projects took place in 80 countries.

This model has important implications for conservation, as there is often a mismatch between areas of high priority for global conservation and countries with the greatest financial and technical capacity. For example, we discovered that a third of the projects were delivered in different countries where their promoters were based. The United States, United Kingdom and Australia were the countries with the highest number of projects (“project exporters”). Indonesia, South Africa, Costa Rica and Mexico registered the largest entries (“project importers”).

Global distribution of crowdfunding for biodiversity conservation: countries where relevant platforms are based, countries where project promoters are hosted and countries where projects are delivered. (Interactive map generated using CARTO)

Crowdfunding could support the conservation work of actors who do not have as much fundraising capacity.

Project leaders came mostly from non-governmental organizations (35%) or universities (30%), or were freelancers (26%). Importantly, among nongovernmental organizations, we found that organizations operating at the subnational level proposed the majority of projects.

Moreover, crowdfunding for conservation is not just about research. While most of the projects we reviewed were research-oriented (40%), many tackled raising awareness of conservation issues (31%) or field activities (21%). This expands the sphere of anecdotal evidence and commentary on conservation-related crowdfunding, which has so far revolved around research. For the first time, we have systematically revealed how these funds are used for additional activities to support conservation.

Crowdfunding can also support innovative projects that traditional funders deem too risky or unconventional. For example, one project supported the purchase and training of two Maremma sheepdogs to protect penguins from predatory foxes in southeastern Australia. (This may sound familiar to those who have seen the movie Oddball.)

Such opportunities for innovation can have important consequences for conservation worldwide; crowdfunding could be seen as an incubator for innovative ideas before they are widely disseminated.

Read more: Hunting tree kangaroos in the mountains of Papua New Guinea

More than half of the projects we registered (around 58%) were largely cash-based. These included a disproportionate number of threatened bird and mammal species.

Prominent projects to save endangered orange-bellied parrots or tree-kangaroos in Papua New Guinea are major successes.

This is not to underestimate the importance of crowdfunding for ecosystems – whether terrestrial (20%), marine (9%) or freshwater (4%). Crowdfunding supports projects ranging from protecting wilderness areas in remote Tasmania to research informing coastal California conservation.

The benefits of crowdfunding go beyond dollars and cents

The amount of money for conservation through crowdfunding has so far been relatively modest compared to more traditional conservation funding mechanisms. However, the benefits of crowdfunding extend far beyond dollars and cents. Crowdfunding helps communicate environmental issues and empower researchers and communities.

The figure below shows the reach of a single tweet during the Big Roo Count campaign. It shows how conservation-related messages can spread widely and engage communities through social media.

Example of a network of tweets (1777 tweets, 512 users) during the Big Roo Count crowdfunding campaign.
Stuart Palm Tree

Crowdfunding is an exciting new tool in the conservation toolbox. But, at the end of the day, traditional funding sources, such as government agencies, still have a major role and duty to invest adequately in environmental protection and nature conservation. Given the current extinction crisis, governments must avoid further outsourcing these responsibilities.

Examples of conservation projects supported by crowdfunding.

The discussion on new sources and new recipients of conservation funding continues. At the same time, transparency and oversight remain key to managing expectations and the overall effectiveness of funding. Crowdfunding helps to democratize conservation funding and increase transparency.

The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Edward Game.

Comments are closed.